Wednesday, April 30, 2008

2008 Kentucky Derby Post Positions

The slots have been drawn for this year's Derby, click here to see who got where. The Times has Big Brown listed as the morning line favorite, but that 20 slot is a tough nut to crack.

Tune in on Friday for the No Hassle at the Castle race analysis.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Trade Tirade

A close friend asked me my opinion about yesterday's Times editorial on trade. I started writing what follows as an e-mail, but after a few paragraphs, I decided to share it with the class:

From the Times editorial: "While trade can hurt some workers, most economists believe it plays a modest role compared with other forces in the economy, including advances in technology, the decline of trade unions and mushrooming executive pay."

Advances in technology are in fact a separate issue, but the death of the unions and skyrocketing CEO salaries are both moving parts of the trade issue. The union-busting that began in the Reagan era set the stage for the big trade agreements of the 90's, and executive (and shareholder) greed fueled the aggressive corporate lobbying for trade. To try and present these as separate, unrelated phenomena is disingenuous.

Quote: "Consider the four million manufacturing jobs lost over the last decade. That number is daunting — and the human pain behind it very real. But in most years the United States generates more jobs than it loses."

The jobs being generated are at McDonald's, CVS, Walmart, and so on, and these service sector jobs are the ones that people displaced by trade often must take. They usually pay less than $10/hr, and unionized manufacturing jobs paid much more.

The Times recently did a piece about the large number people without a college education who were able to join the middle-class in the post-war years because of unionized manufacturing jobs (click here to read the article). $20/hr, or it's inflation-adjusted equivalent, appears to be the historical entry point into the middle-class. This is now a virtual impossibility armed only with a high school diploma, and is due in large measure the the decline in the domestic manufacturing sector that began in the late 70's, and spun out of control after NAFTA. In the early years of the Bush administration labor secretary Elaine Chao tried in earnest to address this massive loss of manufacturing jobs. Her proposal: reclassify service sector jobs as manufacturing jobs.

The Times editorial then offers some very suspicious numbers from academics and think tanks, claiming that the impact of trade on the massive wage inequalities which began in the late seventies are somehow not the product of lost manufacturing jobs which paid more than $20/hr and were then replaced on a large scale by service sectors jobs that pay less than $10/hr. Trade, the experts claim, can only account for 7% or less of the total drop in income of the high school educated worker.

All agree that the wages and jobs had to have gone somewhere, though, and the experts cast about for answers to the vexing mystery: Lawrence Katz at Harvard says that demand for educated workers is rising but there aren't enough of them to fill the jobs. Hello? It seems that he hasn't talked to any recent college grads, who would surely beg to differ. And this explanation also skirts the issue of what happened to the afore-mentioned middle-class wages that were once available to the high-school educated worker.

Another culprit suggested by the editorial: rising executive salaries. Hello? The money they're keeping comes from the same pot that used to be paid to domestic labor. Massive profits, executive pay packages, and inflated share prices are directly related to the shrinking production costs associated with sending jobs overseas, where people work for low wages and receive no benefits (not to mention the savings associated with lax environmental rules and lack of workplace safety regulations). This is why the corporate sector pursues trade so fervently in Washington.

Another piece from yesterday's Times Magazine points out how working people have fared in terms of income under Republican presidents. You can guess what effect Republican economic policies have had on income distribution and wages (but let's not forget that NAFTA was Bill Clinton's baby). In the piece, treasury secretary Henry Paulson offers a much simpler explanation of lost jobs and dropping wages. Paulson claims that fiscal policy and trade agreements are not the cause, but that the widening income gap “is simply an economic reality, and it is neither fair nor useful to blame any political party.”

The Times editorial would tell us, as would Paulson, Bush, and all the supply-siders on the right, that we should not believe our eyes in terms of the overwhelming evidence of the effects of NAFTA and similar trade agreements. Thousands of factories have locked their doors and moved overseas. The people who used to work in these factories have mostly moved on to jobs that pay much less, or to long-term unemployment. As Noam Chomsky is fond of pointing out, you have to be very highly educated in order to not see these types of facts.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The $3 Trillion Shopping Spree


Go to 3trillion.org and start shopping today!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Aqueduct Results, 4/19/08

Professor Paulie picked five winners out of ten races today, but tried to get a little too cute in the trifecta and multiple race pools. A parade of favorites can sometimes be as hard on a bankroll as a parade of longshots. Here are the results from the Big A today.

In other news, Todd Pletcher had a winner in the last big Derby Prep today; the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Behindatthebar's big closing run puts him into contention for the inflated trifecta I'm looking for in this year's Derby: after War Pass, Big Brown, and the other speedballs melt down, Pyro and some long-priced closers should be able to swoop around for a nice payday.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Paulie's Picks, Aqueduct, 4/19/08

In tomorrow's fourth race at the Big A there is a horse with what could very well be the best thoroughbred name ever: racing out of the four-slot, it's Smell My Carrots.

Here are Paulie's picks for what looks to be a sunny day at the races:

1st race:
1 - Lights of Broadway
2 - Stonewood
5 - Introspect

2nd race:
3 - Wesley
5 - Truth Rules
2 - Great Emperor

3rd race:
2 - Frontier Sky
6 - Endless Circle
4 - Golden Amulet

4th race:
3 - New York Met
1 - Conquer the Fear
5 - Key Victory

5th race:
9 - Hot Like the Sand
2 - War tale
5 - Gift of Valor

6th race:
9 - Grasberg
2 - That'srightofficer
8 - Fairway Drive

7th race
6 - P.R. Paul
2 - Talkhouse
5 - Persuasion

8th race:
1 - Chinese Whisper
8 - Jump It
3 - Stalingrad

9th race:
4 - Golden Dawn
3 - Rite Moment
1 - Lady Marlboro

10th race:
1 - Theda's Smile
2 - Anxiety
6 - Runaway Star

Tune in tomorrow night for results.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Paintings I Like, pt. 17

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Harbor at Dieppe, 1826. Oil on canvas, 68" x 89."

Dieppe, on the Normandy coast not too far from Rouen, was a favorite destination of painters and writers in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. Turner's painting of the harbor has that same peculiar power that Sanford Gifford was able to conjure up in Kauterskill Klove: the light is depicted so convincingly that the reflexive response to the painting is to squint.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Aqueduct Results, 4/5/08

It was a pretty good day numbers-wise for old Professor Paulie, but playing from the sofa is a poor substitute for being there.

They threw a rabbit at War Pass and it wore him down just enough for Tale of Ekati to slip past him in deep stretch. WP's chances in the Derby are looking slimmer and slimmer, and Pyro, with his late running style, is looming larger.

Here are the full charts from the Big A today.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Paulie's Picks, Aqueduct, 4/5/08

A bad cold and crummy weather have conspired to keep me on the couch for the Wood Memorial tomorrow, but thanks to OTB's Bet-By-Phone Club, I won't be out of the game. You can't keep a good man down, they say.

I'm throwing in my lot with War Pass in spite of the Tampa Bay Derby debacle - he's a proven mudlark, and Aqueduct is generally friendly to speedy, front-end types. The odds will still be stingier than I want, but not nearly as stingy as they would have been if he had romped at Tampa Bay Downs as expected.

1st race:
6 - Irish Blast
1 - What a Tale
8 - Wood Winner

2nd race:
1a - Fwhyeye
5 - Hepcat
2 - Due to Get Even

3rd race:
4 - Karakorum Cheyenne
5 - Like a Rose
7 - Evaluator

4th race:
7 - Life of Dancer
8 - Break the Ice
9 - Nightintheslammer

5th race:
1 - Frontier Sky
7 - Gold and Blue Box
5 - Sal the Pal

6th race:
1 - Malt Magic
7 - Lucky Island
3 - My Golden Opinion

7th race, The Bay Shore (G3):
3 - Gattopardo
1 - Magical Forest
4 - Laysh Laysh Laysh

8th race, The Excelsior Handicap (G3):
3 - Nite Light
5 - Temporary Saint
6 - Naughty New Yorker

9th race, The Wood Memorial (G1):
5 - War Pass
2 - Texas Wildcatter
1 - Court Vision

10th race, The Carter Handicap (G1):
6 - Spring At Last
2 - King of the Roxy
1 - Lord Snowdon

11th race:
6 - Tribolet
9 - Motor Patrol
8 - El Tamberito

Tune in tomorrow night for results.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Tampa Bay Derby, 3/15/08

I'm still excited about the Wood Memorial this weekend, but I would be more so if War Pass hadn't turned in such a dud two weeks ago in the Tampa Bay Derby. His connections are saying that he had some soft palette issues, but in reality, he ran in to a problem inherent to one-dimensional speedball types: he couldn't grab an early lead, so he finished up the track.

The bad news is that his running style is not at all suited to the Derby, but the good news is that it is eminently suited to the speedy strip at Aqueduct, and on the heels of that last abysmal performance, you might actually be able to bet War Pass at a square-ish price. At the very least, it will be squarer than the 1-9 he posted at Tampa Bay Downs.

Plutocrats on Parade

Mary Heilmann, Yellow Wave (left) and Dottie Digi (right), both 2007, from the 303 Gallery booth at the 2008 Armory Show.

After reading Roberta Smith's piece in the Times (with the accompanying photo of the Bellwether booth), I went to the Armory Show with very limited expectations. But I found an awful lot to like, and it got me back on to a subject that's been in my thoughts quite a bit lately: contemporary curation.

It's interesting to contrast the Armory Show (the biggest and oldest of the ten, count 'em, ten, fairs in New York last week) with the 2008 Whitney Biennial. Both present an encapsulated version of the state of contemporary art. Both shows tell a very different story, and the Armory's is a much more interesting tale, even with its more nonsensical moments. Meanwhile, the Biennial's grad school banality (that litter box piece, oh, god) was numbing.

From the Events page of the 2008 Biennial blog:

"Many of the projects included in the 2008 Biennial explore fluid communication structures and systems of exchange that index larger social, political, and economic contexts, often aiming to invert the more object-oriented operations of the art market. There is an evident trend toward creating work of an ephemeral, event-based character, in the form of music and other performance, movement workshops, radio broadcasts, publishing projects, community-based activities, film screenings, culinary gatherings, or lectures."

Yes, it does say "culinary gatherings" in that last line. In contrast to this highly considered thesis, the Armory Show essentially tumbles together based on the criteria of salability - to whatever extent it is curated, it is done so according to the taste, or perceived taste, of the very rich.

There is a great deal of talk about the "democratic" aspect of the fairs; the result of the absence of centralized curation. But if one wanted to compare it to a political system, one would have to call it a plutocracy given the target audience - a true democracy is when people of all economic strata get a vote. I'm a red (and I'm not talking about red states, either), and I find it very hard to say anything nice about capitalism and the wealthy, especially at this juncture in history. But the show curated for, and to an extent by the rich turned out a lot better than the show curated by the PhD's. How can this be?

Both shows cover a broad spectrum of activities, but there are some notable differences between the two. Apparently, the rich have no beef with art that looks good. It sounds like I'm being entirely glib here, but I'm not - the humble materials and/or amateur artist aesthetic looms large over the Biennial: Karen Kilimnik's thrift-store-esque paintings immediately come to mind, but there are many more examples in the show of a studied low-craft approach. The Armory Show, has many things that look like they were made by people who know their stuff, and unapologetically so.

There still seems to be a reflexively negative response to the professional artist - art that displays any level of finish and/or expertise is often written off as purely facile. There's some mild sneering about this in the Times review of the Armory Show: "An air of orderly professionalism pervades, outrageousness of any kind is rare." But at this point in history, isn't the shocking or ephemeral or crummy-looking every bit as orderly, professional, and expected as any other codified style or technique? And equally salable?

Another key difference in the Biennial and the Armory Show is the amount of painting involved. If one were to believe that the Biennial represented the full spectrum of artistic output at present, one would be forced to draw the conclusion that very few artists are painting. The Armory show flies in the face of that claim; painting was everywhere, and it was wildly varied. Many would say that painting finds a cozy home in the sales-driven fairs because it's so easily commodified. But all art, once embraced by the big institutions and magazines, becomes a commodity - the idea of making art that is truly resistant to reification is infinitely appealing, but ultimately a fantasy.

At the racetrack, year-in and year-out, with or without the aid of speed figures and detailed past performance data, the favorite comes home one-third of the time. What this means is that the crowd as a whole is a decent handicapper; it can pick winners at a rate of 33%. Not enough for a winning season, but highly respectable (a professional bettor can pick around 40%, and those claiming to be able to pick 50% are generally lying).

The art quality level of the consensus opinion of the plutocrats is nowhere near 33%, but in this instance it clearly surpasses the number of winners picked by the Biennial's aesthetes. As it turns out, the wealthy are, as a block, pretty good handicappers, but I guess I shouldn't be so surprised by this.